Hello folks, apologies for the extended radio silence – I’ve been rather busy this spring and in truth not really that arsed about keeping the blog up to date. However, a little itch has been niggling away at me for a while and it’s now time to give it a good old scratch. The itch in question is the recent closure of Jura House gardens.
Regular readers (yes, both of you) will know that Writesofway is a big fan of the splendid Isle of Jura (the island, not just the eponymous whisky) and has spent many happy days exploring the its wild and remote hinterlands. Jura is a paradise for outdoorsbores who like their landscapes rugged, elemental and inaccessible. However, you don’t need to be a rufty-tufty hill walker to appreciate Jura. There is also much for the less adventurous to admire: abundant wildlife, including 5000-odd red deer, wild goats, otters, seals, golden and white-tailed eagles, astonishing scenery, magnificent geology, the northern hemisphere’s second largest whirlpool and numerous prehistoric sites. (And, of course, the distillery.)
Here’s the rub – one of Jura’s most popular attractions, the Jura House Gardens on the Ardfin Estate, has been closed to the public for well over a year now and not because of an outbreak of Japanese knotweed. Instead, it has been closed at the whim of the estate’s new owner, Greg Coffey.
This is a very great shame, as the gardens are very lovely and their closure is likely to disincline many potential daytrippers from visiting Jura and spending a few quid while they’re there. So why have the gardens been closed? Well, let me tell you a story.
The sixteen-bedroomed Jura house was built by the Campbells in the nineteenth century and sits above the shore at Jura’s south-eastern extremity. The garden was designed as a Victorian kitchen garden and has boxwood hedges, a rose garden, vegetable beds and fruit trees grown against the walls. It is one of very few remaining, active walled gardens. Jura’s mild gulf stream-assisted climate and the gardens’ relatively sheltered situation have enabled many non-hardy plants, including a fine Australasian collection, to thrive.
Under the stewardship of the Ardfin Estate’s previous owner, Tony Riley-Smith, the gardens were open to the public, and during the summer months a tea tent provided refreshments. The estate employed a number of Diurachs who worked at the house, in the gardens and on the estate farm. Mr Riley-Jones was very much concerned with the islanders’ fortunes and when times were hard he introduced a number of initiatives, including rebuilding the island’s distillery along with Robin Fletcher, then owner of the Ardlussa Estate in the island’s north. In short, he took the paternalistic role of laird seriously.
Tony Riley-Smith died in 2010 and the 12,000 acre estate, which includes 10 miles of coastline and seven islands, was put on the market for £3.5 million. I would have bought it only I don’t have any money. One man who did have the readies, unfortunately, is the super rich Australian hedge fund manager, Greg Coffey. Hedge funds. Or gambling with other peoples’ money and creaming off a huge percentage for being tricksy. Just the kind of bloke you want to take over the reigns of a Scottish island estate he’d probably never heard of prior to purchase. What to do with an estimated personal wealth of £260 million? Obvious: buy a chunk of Scotland for starters, great place to park the yacht(s).
Mr Coffey has not confounded people’s worst expectations. He paid his money, visited twice, closed the farm, sold the livestock, closed the gardens, closed access to the shoreline on the estate (which may be illegal), sacked the gardener and the housekeeper. Last year, his ‘people’ said Jura House Gardens were being renovated and would be re-opened in 2012. Needless to say, this has not happened, and recent information (February 2012) suggests that the closure may become permanent; earlier this month it emerged that Mr Coffey is planning to build a golf course on part of the estate.
The island’s 200-odd residents are obviously concerned about developments, not least because of Mr Coffey’s lack of communication as to his intentions. Why is Mr C behaving in this way? Because he can. He has the order of personal wealth that makes it possible for individuals such as him to behave like tinpot dictators. He has so much money he doesn’t have to care what anyone else thinks.
But what if he cares what people say about him in the press? Well, then, he might use his money to sue you. Thus, an article that TLF wrote recently criticising Mr Coffey’s behaviour, and the culture of ridiculous wage and bonus packages that makes such behaviour possible, was spiked. The organ in question was fwightened that Mr C might take exception to her strident though fact-based views and take them to law. This demonstrates a further problem with excessive personal wealth – money is power if a situation obtains where people are fearful that criticism might lead to prosecution.
In my opinion, Mr Coffey should get his act together and re-open the Jura House Gardens immediately and restore access to the shore. An explanation and/or apology to the islanders would also be welcome, but I doubt that Mr C gives a toss. I think you’re beneath contempt, Mr Coffey, and if you don’t like me saying so, I don’t care.
That is a truly sad and dispiriting tale.
I’m not often lost for words (as you can probably imagine having read my blog ramblings) but I don’t know where to start with this. If only money and power came with responsibility. I doubt anyone who is nothing more than a gutter-gambler has the necessary intelligence to be able to spell the word let alone understand it. Small wonder that Mr Coffey and his ilk have become reviled the world over but as you say I doubt he gives a toss. “The Jura Luxury Island Resort” – you can just see it!!
I’d better stop as my thoughts are heading off in a violent and expletive strewn direction
Good God. This is astounding! Is TLF going to get her article published anywhere else? How about publishing it on all the outdoor blogs all at once. I would be up for that.
Incredibly depressing read. Well done for getting it out there, Peter.
How about a mass ramble and wild camp all over his closed coastline?
what Alan said. And welcome back.
Peter Edwards. Get in touch.
Alan’s ideas sound excellent.
I also second Alans idea. Mr Coffey is clearly an arse.
Thanks peeps. TLF had suggested a similar action to that proposed by Alan. It’s a great idea, however, I think i might canvas opinion on Jura before embarking on a mass ramble/wild camp. In fact i will do this and I’ll let you know the Bobby.
Suggest Scottish Review for articles that are critical of landowners. The editor Kenneth Roy is a well-known thorn in the side of the Establishment.
Thanks Ian, will have a look at this.
Good to see you in operationa again and will catch up next week. Yes – a real shame especially when the super fast rib from Talvallich is back in operation.
Hi Pete get in touch I live in N.Z now from Steph
Hello Steph, good to hear from you. NZ eh? Good work, it’s a great country if you like the outdoors. Where exactly are you in NZ and what are you up to?
Just back from Jura and totally shocked at the closure if the gardens. Like my family, we met a number of visitors looking to visit the gardens. I can’t help but fear for what the loss of this will have on the local community. Very sad to see money rising above decency again.
Hello Carol. ‘Money rising above decency’ is a phrase that encapsulates this whole sorry business perfectly. As visitors, lacking the opportunity to visit the gardens is bad enough, but as you say the ramifications for the communty on Jura are serious.
I can’t think of anything original to say but I feel that I must add my support to all the above posts.
Thanks Russell, we’re looking into ways of voicing our opposition to Mr Coffey’s behaviour.
Hi Pete. I’m so pleased you’ve pick up on this. Apart from Deborah Orr in the Guardian, and one piece a year ago in the Scotsman, there has been precious little attention paid to Mr Coffey’s selfish actions. I suspect that he is hoping that what little fuss there has been will die down eventually, but it would be great if he were to be proved wrong. The only (slightly) good news is that although the path through the woods down to the shore is closed, the local authority has stated that he can’t stop people going down to the shore by other routes, such as across the fields.
Hello Dave, good to hear from you. Also good to hear that A&B Council have come out against Mr C’s attempts to keep the Great Unwashed away from ‘his’ shoreline.
Are you getting over to Jura regularly? I’m likely to be over in October; there’s a second edition of the guidebook in the pipeline – updated and some new routes including the walk over the mountainous spine of northern Jura and a route up and around Cruach Scarba.
Well said Pete!. I’ve visited Jura numerous times over the years since my childhood and apart from loving the island itself (my family know my ashes are to be scattered at Shian Bay!) I can honestly say the community ‘feel’ of the place and the sheer friendliness of the islanders has always been obvious to see and experience. Its awful to think that some fool with money is affecting the island in such a negative way. Those who visit and come to love Jura, like you, like me and so many others are right to be angry about this awful man and his actions – heaven knows how much more angry I would feel if was a Diurach on the island! He obviously loves money, loves possessions but has no love for the true values of Jura which are measured in the sights and sounds of the island and the warmth of a handshake and a smile from the people of Jura. I pray he tires of his latest acquisition and that the ownership passes to someone who holds Jura in the heart – not their wallet.
Amazing really how little you know about Jura given you claim to love it so much. The title of your little rant says it all really…the selfish giant. But who is the selfish one? Firstly you might like to get your facts straight. Mr Coffey has fired no one since buying the estate. Not one person. In fact he has employed several new people. Further, since his purchase of the estate Mr Coffey has invested more money on our island that anyone in history. He also did not stop access to the shore he closed a path through his house to the shore which is fine by us give he is the one upkeeping it anyway. Coastal path access remains. On top of this the golf course project that was presented in full to the community, (despite your assertion that he is not telling us anything (oh thats right you aren’t from here are you so how could you possibly have attended the public meeting))will provide a further boost to employment. But the great thing is on Jura is that there is no unemployment. So he will have to bring new people in and already has done so. He has given money to our community hall, our school, our church as well as supporting many local charities. But you dont care because you want to get access to a garden that no-one locally really cares too much about because truth be told since he closed it the numbers visiting the island have risen significantly. If you ask Andy at the hotel he will confirm this to you. But of course you would prefer this not to be true because you think you can tell us locals what is good for us and that you know better. We would prefer the employment and economic security this man’s arrival has brought us than have an outsider like you who pretends to know this island tell us what is good for us. Well I am saying enough is enough. it is easy to target rich people because we all hate them, but this man has been nothing but great for Jura. And if any of us thought that people with a spare £3.5 million would buy a remote get away from it all estate for privacy and yet simultaneously have his front garden open to the public then that makes no sense. No other estate on Jura does yet where are your complaints about that? This garden was never open to the public until the estate ran out of money. The original builders of the estate as you righly pointed out were the Campbells and they did not have it open. Neither did the original Riley Smith. It was opened because his heirs ran out of money, and now it is closed again as it always was because the estate is back to in the money with a wealthy laird and thank God for that. You people not from Jura should leave the business of Jura to the islanders. He owes us no apologies. We are thankful to have him here. So all you non island selfish giants who want your selfish access to what is a nice but actually quite an ordinary garden at the expense of all the benefits this man’s arrival has brought us need to get your facts straight and stop telling us what we should be thinking. We have made up our own minds already.
You people not from round here etc etc, blah blah blah. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you should be thinking or what is good for you and I don’t believe that my ‘rant’ does either. It’s merely my opinion. Try the occasional paragraph and your own polemic might look a little less like a rant.
I’m glad to see that everyone on Jura is of a like mind with yourself, 100% behind Mr C, it must be so great when everyone is in complete agreement with no awkward customers having a different opinion to your own.
Thanks for putting me straight about what a great and generous guy Mr Coffey is, I’m sure his money will transform Jura into an earthly paradise. Will you be playing golf on his new course yourself?
I like your suggested correlation between the gardens being closed and visitor numbers going up. The problem is that the gardens were open to the public and this man has closed them. Simple.
I think it’s Jura Resident, not Writes of Way, who needs to get his or her facts straight!
‘Mr Coffey has fired no one since buying the estate. Not one person.’ Tell that to the cattle man, who now lives on the mainland since Coffey sold off his prize herd of Highland cattle. As another Jura resident writes on his website: ‘The new owners [of Ardfin] feel that the livestock enterprise is a drain on financial resources. The cattle and sheep will by sold by the end of June. A very sad change to island life.’ Well, we wouldn’t want to see a drain on Mr Coffey’s financial resources, would we…….
‘And if any of us thought that people with a spare £3.5 million would buy a remote get away from it all estate for privacy and yet simultaneously have his front garden open to the public then that makes no sense. No other estate on Jura does….’ Actually it was a whole lot more than £3.5 million, and that’s in the public domain – get your facts straight, Jura Resident! And by the way, there’s an estate at the north end that opens its gardens for charity as part of the Scottish Gardens Scheme. It’s called Ardlussa – have you heard of it? Amazing really how little you know about Jura….. Coffey could do that without in any way compromising his oh-so-precious privacy – but he won’t, of course, because he just doesn’t care.
‘a nice but actually quite an ordinary garden’. Oh dear! The walled garden is very far from being ‘ordinary’ – on the contrary, it is completely extraordinary, historically, horticulturally and in its design. Its walls and its sundial are listed structures – the sundial is dated 1812, so its bicentenary happens to be this year. It is remarkable as a former Victorian vegetable garden transformed into a unique and creatively designed ornamental garden. But most of all, it contains an extraordinary collection of rare and delicate plants, many from Australia and New Zealand, and painstakingly assembled by the present gardener over some thirty years.
‘a garden that no-one locally really cares too much about’. Sadly, you are right about that, Jura Resident. And ‘twas ever thus. Few Jura residents visited it, and when they did, they rarely put anything in the honesty box. Don’t believe me? Ask the gardener!
The problem here is not actually one of selfishness, either on Coffey’s part or anyone else’s. Coffey isn’t being selfish; he doesn’t want the garden all to himself. Like many residents of Jura, he just isn’t interested in it, and therefore doesn’t appreciate its value and importance. But he happens to have bought something which is of historic and horticultural interest and importance. All he has to do to meet the concerns of those who care about it is to open it a few days a year for charity, when he and his family are elsewhere, as part of the Scottish Gardens Scheme, and it puzzles me why he doesn’t do this. Maybe he sees it as losing face?
Meanwhile, Jura Resident, let us know when you’ve walked the west coast from the Corryvreckan to Feolin ferry, and then you might know as much about Jura as Writes of Way does 😉
Wham! Zap! Ka-pow!! Take that Jura Resident!
Well at least we know for sure that those who are not from the island enjoy not dealing in the facts.
I will write in paragraphs so that you do not get confused. It seems when you can not dispute facts you rely on critisism of my writing style. I will take that as admission that you can not defend your attempted character assasination with fact and resort to points that you seem now to ignore.
The first is that this garden was always closed for the majority of its history. It was open once in its history, for a small percentage of its history when the heirs could not afford to run the estate, then closed again once the new owner could. I will take that point as conceded.
The second is that the new laird fired no-one. I have personally spoken to Alec Smith again after your reply Dave, he was the old farmer on the estate in case you do not know that, because unlike you I do not rely on blogs as they are clearly, like this one, full of people with an agenda that do not deal with facts. The fact is he was not fired. He was asked to stay but chose to take a better job on the mainland. Ask him yourself if you are still unsure.
On the topic of Coffey’s interest in the garden. Perhaps if he is not interested in it we should ask him why he continues to employ a vast staff to upkeep it. Two gardeners and now an extra man on the estate probably working on it as well. I do not know his interest but unlike you would not make vast assumptions about what he thinks. And why should he tell us it is really none of our business. I do like that more people are employed on the estate than when the previous owners because it is good for the island. Not that you would care about that.
The point about the hotel occupancy rates was not to demonstrate a correlation, it was to put to rest the stupid notion that this man is ruining the touristic future of Jura by closing the garden. The fact is that people traffic is up since he closed them. Not because he closed them, but factually it made no difference. The argument that he is putting our fragile economy at risk is an invented notion by those with their own agenda. It another attempt by off islanders to find a reason to critisise someone who is securing our future not destroying it.
On the subject of golf I think your stupidity is either recognised or you are too clever by half. I will give you the benefit of the doubt. The point on the golf course is not who can play but that his person is investing tens of millions of pounds on this island and using local contractors where possible to do so. Just to be clear because your IQ probably doesn’t extend to simple maths. The current budget for the project is around 30 million pounds according to local gossip. So that is 166,667 pounds for each of Jura’s 180 residents. Thank you I will take it. Whether I can play golf or not. I am sure it might also encourage many more families to move here. He will certainly need to spend a fortune each year to upkeep it as well. That means jobs, population, government grants and an assured future for Jura.
Just to be clear you think the man is beneath contempt. I am a little confused as to why. Everyone at the pub can not understand the rage coming from people not on Jura towards this man. You have all tried to whip up anger towards him from the locals and it has not worked and will not. We think he is great.
Anyone nice enough to throw this much money at us is welcome any day of the week. (Regardless of who he wants in his garden (for the avoidance of doubt I wouldn’t want you in mine either))
Another hilariously rude comment from the mysterious Jura Resident. Hohoho. You need to get out less, Buster. Your claims on behalf of Mr C are spurious to say the least; still there’s few things so credible as ‘local gossip’ on which to base an argument. Maybe you can get a job in Mr C’s propaganda department? Every Hitler needs a Goebbels.
The cattle man who lost his job spent many years of his life breeding a fine pedigree herd of Highland Cattle which Coffey sold off almost as soon as he arrived. He will have been offered redeployment elsewhere on the estate, but unsurprisingly he didn’t want to be a ghillie or an under-gardener. He’s a cattle man, and he had to go off to the mainland to carry on being a cattle man.
If Jura Resident wants to know whether Mr Coffey is interested in the garden all s/he has to do is ask the gardener.
The fact that the walled garden was not open to the public until about 20 years ago is irrelevant. Its horticultural importance – uniqueness, even – only came when the present gardener assembled his remarkable collection of rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Most people who are fortunate enough to own gardens like this are proud of them. They recognise their importance and their responsibility to share them with others from time to time. Hence all the gardens open through the National Trust and (for charity) through the Scottish Gardens Scheme. Mr Coffey could do that, but he doesn’t. The fact that he is planning to invest heavily in the estate, by building his golf course and no doubt though other schemes, is of course welcome, but it in no way excuses his behaviour in closing the garden.
Diurachs do not generally care about the garden, and they never did. They are fully entitled to their opinions – but so are the rest of us.
JR and Dave, compare and contrast, folks.
I do hope that ‘Jura Resident’ is not indicative of the residents of Jura as a whole? He / she gives off a real ‘you are not from here so you are not welcome here’ type vibe. Unfortunate as last time I visited I had a great time on a gem of an Island.
It’s a real shame that ‘Jura resident’ does not use their name. Obviously if they were representing the view of all the residents……………………..
I’d put Mr Coffey’s money on JR being a bloke, James, just a few subtle tell-tale signs. It does seem that Mr C and his golf course – along with the implied financial benefits to the island – are approved of by a majority of those residents who have expressed an opinion on the matter. It seems that not a great many care so much about the Jura House gardens.
If Mr C does bring investment, employment and income to the island as a whole, all well and good. We’ll have to see, though I’m not convinced that’s how it will pan out in the long term (though this is none of yours, mine or any other ‘off-islanders’ business of course); the issue of his closure of the gardens is a separate matter.
The ‘you’re not from here, so you’re not entitled to an opinion’ attitude is the worst form of parochialism, though I don’t for a minute think it’s representative of anyone other than JR’s attitude.
I invite JR to unmask him/herself – I think it’s only fair given that they’ve been so rude and personal from behind the cloak of anonymity.
The only thing I am interested in is the truth. The first posting was full of opinion, which is fine, but also full of misinformation which is not fine.
The follow up comments were based on these manipulations of the truth. You have done a fantastic job of gathering support for your cause by presenting a case against this man’s integrity not his action, and added some half truths for dramatic effect. Bravo!
Where I have disproven your claims that the gardener, housekeeper and farmer were fired, as your first posting claimed, you have yet to indicate to me which if any of my claims are spurious.
Another one : “the island’s 200 or so residents are obviously concerned about developments” No not true.
Should I go on?
Someone wanted to write facts but were going to get sued for them? Not possible. You can not get sued for writing fact. You can, however, get sued for writing the sort of paragraph that you have produced above because it is littered with things which are not factual.
What else. He has “been to the island twice”. No he has been here more. In fact spent more days here than most other lairds at other estates.
As to who I speak for, see the communities council’s resolution to in effect tell people from off the island to effectively “mind your own business” when it comes to matters to do with Ardfin to see what I am speaking about. The reason we were forced into doing this was not because we do not care about your opinion, but because others from outside of the community were consistently calling for us to take action that we did not believe in. It is not because we are not welcoming it is because we are not welcoming of people who think they know what is best for us and can tell us what to do. For the avoidance of doubt you have not done that but have been caught in the crossfire of the history of this issue. The press has been filled with the sort of rubbish that you presented in your first posting, followed by your considered opinion that he is beneath contempt, and as a result I thought it important to present another view, one which the majority of people I speak to share (and as you have noted, I do not get out much so that can not be many people of course).
In doing so, I have perhaps misrepresented my thought process. I do not care about the garden. You are entitled to care. You certainly do not need my permission to have an opinion.
Best if it is based on fact.
I go by the line of if he pays for it he can choose. I do not see that I nor anyone has the God given right to walk in it if he does not want me to. If he does allow it to open then great. But if we go around banishing people to Hell that do not open their front garden to the public there is a long list, including me and I am sure including you. Dave is very happy about Ardlussas garden’s once a year opening and yet not over the top angry that it is not open all the time? How so? The other estates on Jura ? In Scotland ? In your beloved England ? Your front garden not open to me ? Beneath contempt. The nicer it is, the more unique and special it is and the more you spend on it the more right I have to be in it ? Particularly if the previous owner was bankrupt and let me in if I paid a bit ? Please!
I could bother writing a name so that the call to criminality on Jura by some of your readers could be focussed on myself. I am surprised that the police have not visited some of them yet under the charge of incitement.
I think I shall stay safe in the house that I never leave.
In my opinion the key to unlocking the walled garden and opening it to the general public hours lies in appealing to the owner`s human side. Mr.Coffey may want to be a benefactor, but has not yet made this known to the public. We should not openly call him an egocentric capitalist who is not concerned about the ‘little people’, like many oppressors before him.
We should not assume that Mr.C. is only concerned to fit in with his wealthy friends. Maybe given the chance he can prove that being known for his community concerns and his love of a beautiful island is how he wishes to be seen worldwide.
To sell Mr. Coffey the idea of doing something extraordinary and affectionate needs to be considered, not just putting up yet another golf course like his wealthy friends do. Who is going to contact the new landowner and community member?
You are to be applauded for your faith in human nature Ms Avery.
Thank you, I am just trying to find an imaginativ solution for a complicated situation.
You may be right, Ms Avery, about the garden at Ardfin. It is possible that Mr Coffey would prefer to be admired and even loved by humanity, for good, selfless and creative deeds, rather than feel the cold breath of contempt which is blowing down his neck from many quarters (though as yet, virtually). It is, after all, possible for a person to be ruthless and selfish in one quarter and kind and generous in another. Many a tyrant has been kind and generous to his children and grandchildren (I say “his” because most tyrants are men) and to his pets. It would be inflammatory to mention the names of any famous tyrants here.
The bigger problem would seem to be the golf course, but although it
would be ironic to make public a tiny, carefully cultivated and cherished section of the landscape, at Ardfin, and desecrate another, much larger sweep of this rugged island, for the purpose of encouraging a tiny handful of overprivileged individuals to knock a little white ball around, it would certainly better to get the garden reopened. I wonder: has anyone yet thought to appeal to Mr Coffey’s philanthropic potential, and ask him directly to do this? That would be a step in the right direction.
I think Mr C has been asked to re-open the Jura House Gardens, but has declined to do so, Robin. It appears that he and his wife have taken exception to people remonstrating with them about the closure and have ‘dug in’ by way of response.
Jura Resident has pointed out that Mr C’s stock (no pun intended) is actually very high with some islanders as he has extended munificence in the direction of funds for the village hall etc. and the golf course will bring a couple/few jobs.
It is the case that the availability of paid employment is of primary importance to a small island community such as Jura’s, it’s just a shame that in some instances that employment is contingent on the whim of absentee landlords. Look at the experience of Eigg and other island communities in the past. It doesn’t inspire confidence. Jura Resident on the other hand believes that Mr C is the ‘best thing that’s ever happened’ to the island.
Time will tell.
I even thought of having the terrain where to knock the little white ball around and the magical garden side by side.
Can you here me Mr. Coffey? Are you open for a compromise. Imagine grandchildren playing on the grounds of the garden, while the adults and friends spend their time on the lawn nearby. Probably a challenge for an landscaping arcitect to make this happen, assuming there is plenty of land availlable. I have never visited the Island of Jura and cannot picture the dimentions of Ardif and if giving up enough land to golfing could be done. A generous and familiy loving man (with incredeable funds)can do the impossible.
I recommend the persuasive BBC documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’, available on BBC iPlayer until 29.10.12, in which Donald Trump receives for his efforts an honorary degree from Robert Gordon University.
You have been warned…!
This is a tricky issue and a messy argument has unfolded. ‘Jura Resident’ reflects a body of opinion on the island, but doesn’t, and cannot hope to speak for absolutely everyone who lives here and who loves the place. While a majority seem to support it, it would be fair to say that the golf course plan is not universally popular and is not supported by everyone who lives here.
As well as making certain that their arguments are factually correct, people whose livelihood is not precariously wrapped up in the fortunes of this island need to be careful how they go about putting their points across. It’s really important to understand how much people who live in places like Jura have had their lives dictated by people who want a rural playground of the place – whether its for hunting and fishing expeditions run from big estate houses or for more low key rambling and sightseeing holidays. The fact of the matter is that folk who have lived here all their lives crave economic security and the history of employment and tenure of land means that they tend to look to the likes of Greg Coffey to help that happen. This needs to be understood by anyone expressing a view on the shape of this landscape.
To trot out arguments that challenge Jura people to declare if they’ve walked from Corryvreckan to Feolin is, I’m afraid, a bit insulting. You only have to look at the work that people here do on the land, all year round, or the intimate knowledge of the island that is held by the stalkers, the coastguard/hill rescue team or the numerous volunteers [and island competitors] who are involved the island’s Fell Race to see how tactless that remark was. The islanders who know the landscape the best don’t choose the days they go out to enjoy its splendours, they have to go out whenever it’s required, for whatever reason.
Please understand that as well as being a wilderness and a walker’s paradise, this island is home to people living in a fragile economy, nowadays significantly dependant on tourism and visitors. However, when genuine concern about the future of a beautiful place spills over into something that could, so unfortunately, be read as patronising interference by holiday makers, all hope for a mature debate is lost.
You make some important points and deliver them in a reasonable manner. I’d just point out that it was someone else’s comment that you refer to: ‘To trot out arguments that challenge Jura people to declare if they’ve walked from Corryvreckan to Feolin is, I’m afraid, a bit insulting’ – and I feel that you have it out of context also. I don’t think that the comment was meant as a challenge to the credentials of any of Jura’s inhabitants. Furthermore, the original post was actually written out of concern for Jura’s population as I was (and still am) worried that the closure of JH gardens might be the thin end of a problematic wedge as far as MR C is concerned. The post was a response using available information at the time; part of the reason for writing a blog is to invite a opinion, discourse, debate. Jura Resident has his particular approach to this, but aside from this I’m open to being informed on the subject of Mr C’s tenure at Ardfin.
I am a visitor, I’ve never spent more than two weeks at a time on Jura, but I do feel I know the place and some of the people a little. I know this can’t stand in for the particular insight into the island and its community that comes with long term residence on the island, but at the same time I don’t see Jura or anywhere else in Scotland (where I’ve lived for six years) as a ‘rural playground’ and I resent the inference that I do.
My wee guide book will have a second edition next year and I hope it has encouraged some new visitors to Jura who will spend some time and money on the island and will tell their friends and family about what a wonderful island it is.
I would like to re-engage with the debate but before doing so, could anyone out there inform me of the current status of the planning application, or how to find out what happening myself, please?
Hello Robin, do people like Mr C need planning permission? I don’t know about the current status of the planning application, but you could try looking at the local authority’s website http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/node/30752
Thanks you writesofway.
I apologise if you have been offended but I wasn’t trying to provoke any resentment, just illustrate that the ‘countryside’, has for been seen as a place for recreation for a long time, by people whose livelihood is not wrapped up in it in the way that shapes the fortunes of the people who live there. I sense that you appreciate that the role of economy and employment in maintaining a population, keeping schools open and so forth is often overshadowed by this view.
I’ve looked again at the context, and I still think that the Corryvreckan/Feolin comment comes over as a slight – at the very least, I perceive it as one. I’ve encountered it before and it is something that has been used as a rebuke in other arguments I have heard and read. If I’m wrong about the purpose of the remark, then I look forward to a reasonable, polite explanation.
Mr Coffey plays his cards close to his chest, but I hope that the planning application for the golf course will be publicised (in the Oban Times I should imagine) and that there will be opportunity to put views forward. Dundas and Wilson, a law firm whose services Mr Coffey shares with Donald Trump, were recently on hand to present the current plans to the islanders as part of a public consultation.
I hope that there is the opportunity for a sensible discussion about the project. I am, however, pessimistic about the outcome, not least because I imagine that the project has been constructed in such a way that it will invite little opposition from the Argyll and Bute planners. This landowner will endeavour to do what he wants with property that our legal system has told him he has acquired fairly and squarely. Jura Resident argues this is his right. However, we should all remember that in the days when this land was annexed and titles of ownership were drawn up, the poor had no lawyers, so the rights to acquisition are perhaps less clear cut if a rounded view of history is taken, rather than just read the version that the landowners have sponsored over the centuries.
Mr Coffey can, of course, take the opportunity to explain himself his plans and his view of the benefits of the golf course, not just for himself and his guests, but for the islanders too, and also to reassure the many visitors who love the place and return year on year.
Although I think that the viewpoints have been expressed somewhat heatedly, I hope that off-island readers can appreciate the delicacy of the arguments as far as Jura’s economy and employment prospects are concerned, but that also that people who live on the island, listen to the way in which the island is appreciated by the people who come here to enjoy it, and who spend money within the local economy – a source of income that is vital to the island.
You make an important point about the history of land ownership in the Hebrides:
‘the days when this land was annexed and titles of ownership were drawn up, the poor had no lawyers, so the rights to acquisition are perhaps less clear cut if a rounded view of history is taken, rather than just read the version that the landowners have sponsored over the centuries.’
Historically, the population of Jura had a tough time of it when the land was effectively cleared (by means of exponential rent increases imposed on crofters) to make way for sheep and red deer. This precipitated a process of depopulation that has only recently been arrested. In recent years, the situation seems to have improved and most of the estates provide employment and manage the land in a manner beneficial to the island’s population and economy as a whole. When compared with the fortunes of the population of Eigg under a series of absentee landlords until their recent community buy-out, the situation on Jura has been more stable. I am aware, however, how fragile the island community and economy are with a population hovering only a little above a sustainable minimum.
Employment is obviously critical to the island’s future and the estates play a very important role in this. Tourism – in all its many forms – is also an important part of the island’s economy. My concern is that while Mr C may bring some employment to Jura, his actions – closing the gardens, building a private (?) golf course – may have a negative impact on tourism. I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong, but the original post was written out of concern for the future of Jura’s community.
I may be an outsider, but I do feel entitled to have an opinion on this matter in much the same way that I have an opinion about the Scottish Government trashing the Southern Uplands with vast arrays of wind turbines or the Westminster government cosying up to News International. In stating that off-islanders should mind their own business, Jura Resident’s comments reeked of the worst form of parochialism.
I would also say that while I appreciate the very particular economic issues affecting Jura’s small island community, here in the big city (Glasgow) our communities have their own social and economic problems. I’m self-employed and every day I give thanks that to a certain extent I’m the master of my own fate. The population of Eigg must feel something similar.
Finally, I have to repeat that the Corryvreckan/Feolin comment you have mentioned again is not my comment, but someone else’s intended to point out to Jura Resident that I know the island well.
All the best
‘Another Jura Resident’ has made valuable contributions here and I have enjoyed the intelligent and reasoned discussion between her or him and Peter Edwards as a new and interesting phase in the debate. It is timely, if the public consultation process about the golf course proposal is a genuine one. Like Another Jura Resident, though, I have doubts about that, and I take it as a sign of Mr Coffey’s lack of concern for and trust of the residents of Jura, and a desire simply to get his own way at any cost, that he has chosen to employ the same law firm as Donald Trump, who has bulldozed his way towards his goal, metaphorically and literally.
In my view, as I have already argued, the golf course plan remains a folly, an expensive project which makes no sense. I am repeating this view for good reason: since I last wrote here Mr Coffey has announced publicly that he intends to return to Australia to spend more time with his family (I wonder if he knows how this phrase, beloved of politicians in deep trouble, and resigning before they are pushed, will be interpreted here in the UK). If that comes about, I think we can assume that the golf course will not find purpose amongst Mr Coffey’s visiting guests, his friends and colleagues and others he may wish to impress at his Jura estate. They will not be invited to visit him at Ardfin if he is in Australia with his wife and children.
Neither would a golf course be a viable commercial concern without plans to improve Jura’s transport links with the mainland and the development of further infrastructure on the island, to accommodate the large numbers of golfers required to make the scheme pay, thereby making it a welcome source of employment for residents of Jura. I am not aware of any such plans in progress.
Returning to the public consultation process, I take it as a sign of a lack of transparency and trust, and fear of persecution within the local debate, that like Jura Resident, Another Jura Resident has entered the discussion here anonymously. That is dispiriting, given her or his obvious concern and clear grasp of the sensitivities of the case we are discussing.
Finally, I hope that there will be no further discussion of the Corryvreckan/Feolin matter, a real red herring! The author of the Cicerone Guide to Walking on Jura, Islay and Colonsay, the first decent guide to these islands to be published, would be the last to boast about his achievements or to suggest that somehow they make him superior to all of those working on Jura and knowing it so well, whom Another Jura Resident respectfully lists in his contribution.
As the author of the unexpectedly controversial ‘Corryvreckan to Feolin Ferry’ line, I am happy to apologise to anyone who has taken offence. That was certainly not the intention. I was simply responding to what I felt was an unduly forceful post by Jura Resident, which began with the words ‘Amazing really how little you know about Jura’. The point I was trying to make was that although self-evidently residents of any place know more about it than visitors, visitors can still be knowledgeable, and writesofway’s knowledge of (literally) the other side of Jura is almost certainly greater than that of most people who live there. That’s all. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as an ‘insult’ – if it was, it was also an insult to me and the remainder of the 99.99999999% of the human race who have yet to walk the whole of Jura’s wonderful west coast (but I’m still hoping to do it – just waiting for a few dry, sunny midge-free days………;-).
On other matters, I am told that the land around Jura house has been staked out in a way which might be connected with the golf course scheme, but I don’t think a planning application has been submitted yet.
Thanks for your comment, Dave. You’re right – I do know ‘the back’ very well indeed!
Thanks for such an informative comment, Robin. I didn’t know that Mr C was repatriating himself, but I did know that he has recently retired at the grand old age of 41. It seems that his funds haven’t been performing in quite the stellar fashion to which he and the fund management sector have been accustomed and he has pulled the plug.
Where this leaves the Ardfin Estate, the golf course and the population of Jura is anyone’s guess.
Points from Peter, Dave et al, are appreciated. Thanks
I have no special inside knowledge, but my impression from the newspaper reports of Mr Coffey’s impending retirement is that he intends to make Australia his main residence, but he will also maintain his various places in Europe (London, Jura and – I think – Switzerland?). As for his plans for the golf course, Robin Dance refers to ‘large numbers of golfers to make the scheme pay’, but I believe Mr C’s intention is that the course will be a private one, just for himself and his pals. But it will still need professional maintenance, of course, so there will undoubtedly be jobs created as a result, and that has to be good news.
In the longer term, however, I see the golf course as a potential asset for the island. If you look at the design on the web (here’s a link: http://planetgolfusa.com/blog/2012/08/24/bob-harrison-discusses-his-new-golf-course-on-the-scottish-island-of-jura/), you can see that the scheme does not appear to interfere unduly with the natural shape of the landscape. And of course, even multimillionaires are mortal. One day someone else will own the estate, and with it the golf course, and if/when it then becomes public, it could give a seriously useful boost to the island’s economy.
Given your earlier, robust skepticism, Dave, which cheered me, I am now cheered again by your guarded optimism. Thanks for the useful link (no pun intended). If the report in The Planet is to be believed, the environmental impact of the golf course, if it materialises, will not be disastrous, as you suggest.
But did you read the small print at the end? I quote it here:
“We intend to follow the development of the Ardfin course on Jura closely here at Planet Golf, and will report back when approval is granted and construction gets underway”.
Note the word “when”. Is planning approval a foregone conclusion? If so, what is the point of consultation?
Much of the heat generated in this debate is political. As a nation we are currently deeply unsettled about the encroachments of triumphal capitalism, of which Mr Coffey is one significant figurehead, on our public life and community concerns. We cannot decide where the line should be drawn, in favour of jobs and growth, and against further encroachments, dependent as we have become for our livelihoods on the largesse of globally mobile multi-millionaires and billionaires. Donald Trump comes to mind, again.
Returning now to Jura, nobody so far has addressed the issue I raised about the inevitable encroachment of the island’s deer. There will either be miles of fencing, which will have its own visual impact, or conflict between golfers and deer, creatures known for their sensitivity.
I just checked on news about the Gardens, I will set my hopes and prayers on a christmas miracle that tops all our plans and shows men like trump and coffey to their seats. I know, in this world there is more than we can envision with our limited sense.
Merry Christmas !
Have a good Festive Interlude yourself, Edith.
A planning application has now been submitted – not for the golf course, but for renovation and conversion of the farm buildings at Jura House. Here it is, for anyone who’s interested: http://publicaccess.argyll-bute.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MCPWV4CHCH000
I see the address of the applicant is listed as c/o RBC Wealth Management, La Motte Chambers, St Helier, Jersey………… Well well, there’s a surprise 😉
Thanks for that, Dave. I did find at the same site ‘Screening opinion for 18 hole golf course at Ardfin Estate’, its current status ‘Pending Consideration’, but was unable to discover any further information (but I am sure there will be people on Jura who will be up to speed with the Application’s progress).
Here is the link:
I’m glad to see that you and Dave have been keeping the home fires burning while myself, Fiona and Dougal have been enjoying a few crisp, clear hill-walking days on Arran – cold in the tent, mind!
Anyway, I thought it was supposed to be a 9-hole course? I also thought that the Scottish Golf Union were not impressed with that more modest proposal as it was. Dave?
Thanks, Dave. I was sure that I’d read elsewhere some months back that it was to be a 9-hole course. Anyway, thanks for the link to the Torygraph article; can Viscount Astor really mean that he believes the Tarbert Estate is worth less than £2M?
Latest news on the golf course is that SNH have objected, and at the moment it looks like the whole thing is off. See http://forargyll.com/2012/12/snh-accused-of-costing-jura-jobs/#comment-1456298
That is a surprising development, Dave, though I strongly suspect it will suit Mr Coffey, who will be able to blame SNH and go quietly back to Australia to spend more time with his family…without losing face.
To me it never looked like a realistic long-term project, even less when it became clear that the absentee landlord would inevitably be even more absent.
And I can’t see how the economic and employment situation on Jura, which some thought this project would improve, will do so as long as the arrival of a rich saviour is awaited.
When Ardfin comes up for sale again, would a community buy-out be impossible?
An interesting development indeed; thanks for keeping us up to speed, Dave. As one of the comments responding to the article suggests, Mr C needs only appeal to Wee ‘Eck (Mr Salmond) to get out his special steamroller and SNH’s opposition can easily be flattened.
But the arch-opportunist Salmond has so many other fish to fry, and is already up to his neck in so many other issues, that I do not think he will give a heck or ‘eck for Jura. There are so few potential votes there.
Exciting development – I like it!!
Well it didn’t take long for Wee Eck to sort that out……. http://forargyll.com/2012/12/snh-show-they-have-been-blamed-unfairly-over-ardfin-golf-course/#comment-1465581
That’s horrendous but, with more and more of these rich yuppies finding themselves at the reins, will be happening more and more I think. He sounds just like Donald Trump and all his nonsense around his golf course in Scotland.
It’s been a year since this subject was last discussed here, but there is now a full planning application for the Ardfin Golf Course lodged with Argyll & Bute Council. I would suggest that this is the time to make any well reasoned and considered comments about the proposal. There remains strong support from many on Jura for this proposal, and the local press has taken a so far uncritical stance. However, it would be true to say that a number of people on Jura are very disappointed about this plan. I’m sure that there are many people elsewhere who hold the island, its wildlife habitats and its long term economic future at heart, who are also very concerned about the merits of such a development.
Thanks very much for the heads up AJR – I very nearly had you confused with ‘a different jura resident’, though obviously not with Jura Resident… I’d hoped that this had gone away.
Thanks for the link, AJR. Having had a good look at the application, I tend to agree with SNH that the proposal is sensitive to the shape and character of the landscape, and should not have a negative effect on it. So it would be interesting to know what your reservations are, exactly? You mention the ‘long term economic future’ of the island as an issue, and surely that is one of the chief attractions of the proposal. As I have suggested before, even multi-millionaires are mortal. One day, Mr Coffey or his heirs will sell the estate, and a new owner could very well decide to make his private golf course into a public one, and it could then become a really significant contributor to the island’s fragile economy.
Mr Coffey is inviting criticism of his building plans elsewhere
I’m finding it just a little bit harder to empathise with wealthy Sydney residents suffering from mansion envy!
Planning consent for the Ardfin golf course has now been granted. See http://publicaccess.argyll-bute.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MWI92BCH06C00